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What is Child Support Used For

“But that’s what child support is for!”

I often hear this refrain, or its cousin “I understand that’s why s/he is paying child support”.  More often than not, it isn’t correct in the context.  People tend to think that a child support payment is intended to be the full contribution owed by a non-custodial parent, but that is rarely true.  So what is child support for?  And when are you liable for or entitled to additional monies?

Child Support is intended to insulate children from the economic impact a divorce can have on a child’s standard of living.  As the 2009 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines states, Child Support is intended “to meet the child’s survival needs in the first instance, but to the extent either parent enjoys a higher standard of living, to entitle the child to enjoy that higher standard”.  Translated into lay terms, Child Support is meant to enable a child to have his or her basic needs met by items or services of the same quality he or she enjoyed during the marriage.  So what do these payments actually cover?  Food, clothing, shelter and basic sanitary/hygienic needs, like groceries, household cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and toothbrushes.

That being said, it’s time for what Child Support isn’t considered to include.  A monthly child support payment does not include monies owed for a person’s share of a child’s medical expenses.  It doesn’t include extraordinary basic expenses, like a share of tuition for a private school or college.  It doesn’t include fees associated with a child’s extracurricular activities.  While a parent may not be automatically liable for some portion of these costs, if the children were already creating or were expected to create these sorts of expenses at the time of their parents’ split, it’s difficult to argue that a parent shouldn’t continue to be responsible for some portion of this expense if she or he can afford to help.

This doesn’t mean that one parent may decide to take on some huge expense for a child and then force the other parent to contribute.  It likewise doesn’t mean that a parent can refuse to contribute to these expenses merely because he or she pays child support.  As with so many things in the area of family law, the law takes the commonsense approach: the involved parties need to look at the situation on the ground and decide what is in the child’s best interest.  Once that is determined, it is a question of the fairest way to accomplish that goal.

If you are currently having an issue with how you and your child’s other parent should apportion payment for certain expenses related to your child, it is worthwhile to consult with an attorney or mediator to assist you in coming to a solution that is fair and reasonable not only to you, but to your child.

3 Comments on “What is Child Support Used For

  1. I think this needs a larger comment, particularly the comment, “[Child Support] doesn’t include extraordinary basic expenses, like a share of tuition for a private school or college.”

    States are required at the federal level to develop child support guidelines. The guidelines are supposed to be based on real numbers, for which the gold standard is the USDA numbers on the cost of raising a child. If the current level of child support paid by the non-custodial parent exceeds this level (currently around $12,000), then what should it go to but for these things?

    More specifically, what of college costs? Shouldn’t the recipient be saving for college based on excess child support? When the child does go to college for nine months out of the year, what should that child support be going to, if not college costs? If you say the child support goes to the cost of maintaining a room for that now absent child, then I want to know how child support formulas account for the non-custodial parent maintaining a room for the child.

    Yes, there are many questions here. “Consult a lawyer” is a fair recommendation. But how about expanding upon common agreements, court rulings, and the thinking that runs behind them both.


  2. “Child Support is intended to insulate children from the economic impact a divorce can have on a child’s standard of living” – this is an excellent clarification, thank you.

    I’m really enjoying your blog